Five freedoms in EU law for livestock since ‘76

What is animal welfare?

I was talking here recently about the cold calf and the effects of temperature on the development of young calves.

Someone raised the issue of welfare in this regard, so I decided to dig a little deeper, and find out what was out there with regard to the welfare of animals.

In the early 1960s, a lot of publications raised the issue of poor welfare in the increasingly intensified farming sector.

The UK Government at the time responded by authorising an investigation led by a Professor Roger Brambell into the welfare of intensively farmed animals.

He finally came out with a report containing the famous line that “An animal should at least have sufficient freedom of movement to be able without difficulty, to turn round, groom itself, get up, lie down and stretch its limbs”.

This line became known as Brambell’s Five Freedoms.

As a result of the report, the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee was created, to monitor the livestock production sector.

This was subsequently renamed the Farm Animal Welfare Council.

This was all brought into European law with the European Convention for the Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes, in Strasbourg in 1976.

This means that the realm of animal welfare applies to us in Ireland as much as any other European country.

As time has passed, Brambell’s Five Freedoms have evolved into a more substantial piece of work.

The five freedoms as currently expressed are:

  • Freedom from hunger or thirst, by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
  • Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  • Freedom from pain, injury or disease, by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  • Freedom to express (most) normal behaviour, by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
  • Freedom from fear and distress, by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

The European Convention talks about lighting, temperature, humidity, air circulation, ventilation, and other environmental conditions such as gas concentration or noise intensity in the place in which an animal is housed.

When we look at the first Freedom we can ask ourselves if our calves always have access to fresh water at all times of the day and night.

Sometimes, when they are in single pens, this aspect can be forgotten about.

The second freedom (Freedom from Discomfort) begs the question about clean dry bedding with adequate depth to prevent against the cold.

Is there enough shelter to protect the calf against draughts or indeed driving wind and rain?

Looking at the third freedom (pain, injury and disease), are we doing enough to prevent disease from entering our animals or are we letting disease take a good hold before we start to do something about it?

There is so much information available through your vet and other channels regarding disease prevention that there should be no excuse to fall down in this freedom.

A lot of work has been done over the last decade to rid the sense of fear and distress from our animals.

Sticks and goads have been banned from places like meat factories and marts, and the public awareness has increased because of this.

Increasingly, over the last decade, the large supermarket chains have insisted on sourcing their meat and dairy products from farms that have an animal welfare policy in place, and that they adhere to it.

That is why there are more and more on-farm inspections.

I am glad to report that in my day-to-day duties, I see clients who are well up to speed with all the freedoms.


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